"Heathers" might as well have been written for Scott Miller, New Line Theatre's founder. It's hard to imagine a high school musical being that full of social criticism - although perhaps less difficult to conceive of the language and sexual discussion that the show brings, social criticism and overt sexuality being part of Miller's professional habitat.
But here's "Heathers" in all its shoulder-padded glory. It's a black comedy about high school, set in the Eighties, complete with the titular triad of Heathers, high priestess and her acolytes, and a couple of testosterone-poisoned football players. Our heroine, Veronica (Anna Skidis), a senior at the school, wants to be Popular - which means running with the Heathers. She finds a way into their inner circle, but just about the same time runs into a guy who quotes Baudelaire, J.D. (Evan Fornichon). Is it coincidence he shares initials with James Dean? Or that a couple of decades before this, "JD" was slang for "juvenile delinquent"?
Skiddis is a great Veronica, wide-eyed and yet letting us see her conflict over the demands of the head Heather, (Sicily Mathenia), even as she's seduced into them, choosing the supremely superficials over her former best friend, Martha (Grace Seidel). All three of the Heathers delight with their awe-inspiring superficiality and malevolence, Mathenia with some near-unbelievable lines - starting off with the scene with the pate - and Larissa White and Cameisha Cotton as the other two. Cotton's sulk through much of the second act is particularly glorious, recognizable to anyone who's raised a teenager.
Fornichon's J.D.'s initial appearances are so near-endearing that it's difficult to realize he's not what he seems, at least at first. His nemeses, football players Omega Jones and Clayton Humburg, carry off exquisitely tasteless lines and sing "Blue", along with White and Cotton, without collapsing at the lyrics. This is as good a place as any to point out that while New Line is known for adult themes and language, "Heathers" may well beat out their "Jerry Springer The Opera", something heretofore inconceivable. (There may come a time in St. Louis where warnings like this are superfluous, but it won't be in my lifetime.)
Still, there are moments like Seidel's "Kindergarten Boyfriend", a remarkable rendition of a song of innocence that almost stopped the opening night.
Tightly directed by Miller and Mike Dowdy, and interlaced with choreographer Robin Michelle Berger's work, it fits together like Lycra. Scenic design by Rob Lippert and costumes from Sarah Porter make it feel pretty authentic.
Very funny despite some of the subject matter, it's a great opening show, well crafted and well cast, for the brand-new Marcelle Theater. This is New Line's 25th year, and they've had a long, rugged road finding a permanent home. For those of us who remember the basement at New St. Marcus and the noisy furnace that couldn't be allowed to run while there was actual work being done on the stage, for instance, it's a particular pleasure. Samuel Shepherd Drive is parallel to and one block north of Washington Avenue, and the theater is a block west of Compton. The parking lot across the street is for the theater.
Indulge. Just don't bring along your prissy Uncle Ronald.
New Line Theatre
through October 24
3310 Samuel Shepherd Drive